Zisco chair refuses govt gagging, quits

ECONOMIST Gift Mugano abruptly resigned from his position as chairperson of the state-owned Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company Limited (Ziscosteel) board after taking exception to an instruction allegedly by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube that he desists from publicly criticising government policies, it has emerged.

Mugano this week told Industry minister Sekai Nzenza, in a resignation letter, that he is quitting Ziscosteel as he cannot accept the gag order.
“As a follow up to our conversations over my comments to public media on government policies, which are viewed by some sections of government as in direct conflict with my role as a board member of a state enterprise, I took a reflection of the concerns and decided to resign from the Zisco Board,” Mugano wrote in his resignation letter.

“The decision to resign is built on a firm view that I believe that my contribution on the policy discourse is of primary importance which cannot be forfeited in favour of maintaining a micro-role as the interim chairman and board member of Zisco.”

Mugano told businessdigest in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that he had quit after being told by the Ziscosteel line minister, Nzenza, that Ncube was allegedly unhappy with his criticism of public policy.

“I was told that government, the minister of Finance in particular, said that l should not criticise government policy. Ncube is not my line minister, so the message came from minister Nzenza. This is where I drew the line,” Mugano said.

However, a senior official in the ministry of Finance dismissed Mugano’s allegations.

“If the Finance minister was to confront everyone who criticises government policy, he will be one of the busiest man,” he said
“Government policy must always be discussed and having different view on it is healthy. To say the minister tried to gag him is off the rails. I think someone is trying to put words in someone’s mouth.”

Mugano said what had irked Ncube was his criticism of the government’s decision to introduce the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe foreign currency auction system.

He pointed out that the US$50 000 minimum stipulation for bidders was too high and shut out smaller businesses, who could not afford to be part of the process, adding that he had said the government should instead concentrate on policies that stimulate the generation of foreign currency.

Mugano said Ncube and other top officials were unnerved by his views on the government’s ban on some mobile money transactions and the suspension of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange — which he described as “suicidal”.

“I refuse to be silenced because, firstly, I have got a constitutional right to express my views and secondly as an economist my role is to contribute to the development process of Zimbabwe because what is happening is affecting all of us,” Mugano said.

“If I had revealed classified information on Ziscosteel, I would understand, but not where I am stopped from constructive dialogue.”
He said expressing one’s views is not only enshrined in the constitution, but also in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme spearheaded by Ncube’s ministry.

He said the restrictions on commenting negatively on government policy was in stark contrast to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s thrust to open up democratic space, for everyone to express their views openly.

During his time as a Ziscosteel board member, Mugano said he had come to appreciate the importance of good governance. He pointed to the attempted takeover of key Ziscosteel assets by ZimCoke, which the board vigorously opposed because due process was not upheld in implementing the deal. He likened the proposed takeover to “selling a car, but having removed the engine”, as Ziscosteel would not have found any buyers had ZimCoke proceeded to strip it of its key assets.

“Many parastatals are falling into the same category, where due process is not followed.”
He said the establishment of the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency is a step in the right direction and should be buttressed through implementation.
Mugano said government’s lethargic pace in implementing the board’s recommendation during his tenure at Ziscosteel slowed down processes meant to revive the integrated steel-maker.

He said government should be prompt in implementing board recommendations at state entities to ensure efficiency and greater benefit to the national economy.

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